The Anniversary Party (2001)

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Released 24-Apr-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-Egypt
Audio Commentary-Jennifer Jason Leigh & Alan Cumming
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Scene
Theatrical Trailer
Filmographies-Cast
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 110:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:28) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jennifer Jason Leigh
Alan Cumming
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh
Alan Cumming
Kevin Kline
Phoebe Cates
Gwyneth Paltrow
Jane Adams
John C. Reilly
Parker Posey
Jennifer Beals
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $34.95 Music Michael Penn


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Kevin Kline has long been my favourite actor, so I grabbed this disc for review solely on that fact alone and knowing very little about this film at all. Written, directed, and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming and co-starring many of their friends (including Kline, his wife Phoebe Cates and their two children), it was shot on a tight budget in a very short time frame.

    The Anniversary Party is a film that uses the coming together of an eclectic group of people with differing opinions, mores, sexual tendencies, views on drugs, and personal problems as its device for the telling of the story. They have all gathered for the celebration of Joe (Alan Cumming) and Sally's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sixth wedding anniversary (hence the title). The couple have recently reunited after a brief separation, and while on the surface seem to be a happy, doting couple, they have their problems. Joe is an author, who is just about to launch a movie-directing career by turning his best-seller into a film. Sally is a very well known actor. Living in a comfortable abode in the Hollywood hills, the couple have it all (pool, maids, designer art and furnishings, you get the idea). They decide to hold a party to celebrate their wedding anniversary with friends. The film tells the story of the 24 hour period that the party occurs within. The friends start arriving for the party bearing gifts and their own personal hang-ups. We meet the neighbours, Monica and Ryan Rose (Mina Badie and Denis O'Hare), who have been causing trouble by complaining about Sally's barking dog. Clair (Jane Adams) and her director partner Mac (John C. Reilly) are among Sally's best friends, as is Levi Panes (Michael Panes). Not so welcome from Sally's perspective is actor Skye Davidson (Gwyneth Paltrow). Skye has been cast by Joe to star in his film even though Sally thought that the role would have naturally gone to her. She resents Skye immediately, which makes for many an uncomfortable scene  The party progresses slowly and stiffly, with a ultra-competitive game of charades (Jerry played by John Benjamin Hickey takes to the game with gusto and is really playing for keeps). When the time comes for a toast to the happy couple, the guests roll off one-by-one with a personal dedication. Some are sincere. Some are awkward. When we finally get to Skye, she mumbles a few words and then presents the couple with a 'gift of love' and the party takes a new angle. Skye's gift is enough ecstasy for all concerned. The second half of the film sees all and sundry tripping out and laying bare their souls and expressing their desires and problems for all to see and hear. Not all is as perfect as it seems, with all the guests having something to share. Sally and Joe in particular reach a major point in their lives, all whilst looking for their dog Otis, who has wandered off during the party.

    It would seem on face value that many of the actors have brought a substantial amount of themselves to each of their roles and as such are effortlessly playing themselves on-screen. Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates in particular capture this ideal. Kline plays a veteran actor friend of Sally's and with his real-life wife (Cates) and children (Owen and Greta Kline) make the perfect Hollywood family.

    This film was shot not on conventional film but on digital video tape. A very tight time-frame was one of the key factors responsible for the choice of medium. There were only nineteen days where all the cast could be together (remember it is a party so they are on-screen as a group most of the time), so using digital video allowed the production team the ability to shoot and re-shoot quickly and cheaply. The result is far more film-like than I had imagined and captures the intimate and immediate feel that the directors were hoping for.

    The jacket refers to this as a comedy, but unless I didn't get the jokes, a comedy it isn't. Incisive, biting, and somewhat tragic all at the same time, there are a few jokes and humorous lines (Kevin Kline has some of the best ones), but this is essentially a melodrama showing that even though the rich and famous may have all the material possessions and comfortable homes, they have all the same problems as the rest of us and are often even more affected by the trappings of money and fame.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Made on a tight budget, the back cover of this disc proudly states that the filmmakers choose to originate this film on digital videotape. I guess that means that it isn't really a film at all but a video!  As a result, the end-product isn't as vivid and vibrant as decent film-stock would provide, but it is certainly better than I was expecting (though at times it does take on the appearance of a certain type of film that is often sold in Canberra).

    Presented in the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it also features 16x9 enhancement. The digital cameras used in making the film shot in 1.78:1 widescreen so there is only minor matting to get to the aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

    When things stay still there is a decent level of detail and images are generally sharp and clear. When the camera gets moving quickly, the all-too-obvious videotape origins are betrayed with a fair bit of motion blur (good examples occur early on at 2:54 on a door and at 4:01 on the yoga mat) The are no shadow detail problems. Grain is present, though controlled well and there is no low level noise.

    Colours are somewhat drab, with a slight grey tinge to several scenes and few colours that I would call overly vibrant. With much of the action taking place at night this mattered little, though the limited range of colour became a bit depressing after a while.

    No MPEG artefacts were noticed. Video artefacts were also pleasantly absent. This is a very clean transfer overall with little to complain about.

    There is only one subtitle stream available, this being an English For The Hearing Impaired variety. They are quite accurate and timely in their appearance.

    This is a dual layered disc with the layer change occurring at 70:26, placed mid-scene with a noticeable pause in the audio. There is a less disruptive impact upon the video.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Now since this is primarily dialogue, dialogue, and more dialogue, there is little in the way of effects and certainly limited need for an enveloping surround presence. There was some obvious (at times a little too obvious) panning of sounds across the front speakers. Notable examples of this occur at 13:55 and 31:16.

    There are two audio tracks available and while the video was made on a tight budget, the audio gets the full 5.1 treatment. The full bitrate Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is complemented by a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio commentary track.

    Dialogue is naturally enough very prominent in the overall mix and there are no audio sync problems.

    Some really interesting score music is played throughout the film, with the most noticeable shift in style after the ecstasy is broken out. The score is credited to Michael Penn.

    There is very minimal surround use, save for a couple of the music numbers and during the noisier moments during the early stages of the party. The subwoofer was also pretty much in peaceful slumber for the whole film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio & Animation

Dolby Digital Trailer - Egypt

Audio Commentary

    A full length commentary by co-directors Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, that is scene specific but would appear to be made up from individual recordings as there is no interaction between the two. They explain their reasons behind certain editing and artistic decisions. It is informative and adds to the overall value of what is a film that is designed to make you think a bit.

Featurette - Anatomy of a Scene

    Running for 20:46 minutes, this featurette was recorded originally for the Sundance Channel, and is a basic making-of/promotional piece albeit with a little more substance than the usual offerings. Presented full frame with shots from the film in 1.85:1 letterbox in what is fairly ordinary video quality. Audio is provided by a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. It offers some interesting insights from the filmmakers and editor (though most are covered in the commentary track).

Theatrical Trailer

    This trailer portrays the film as a real comedy, as most of the funnier lines and moments are included here. Running for a total of 2:18 minutes, it is presented in the same aspect ratio as the main film and is also 16x9 enhanced. Audio is from a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack.

Filmographies-Cast

    Comprehensive filmographies only for most of the large cast. Even Otis the dog (Jennifer Jason Leigh's real dog playing himself) gets a mention (this is his feature film debut).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Apart from some minor artwork differences, the Region 1 disc is identical to the Region 4 offering. I'd have to favour the local product as a result.

Summary

    A small budget has still resulted in a film of some substance and is proof that filmmakers don't need eight figures to make a decent story come to life. Despite the limitations of shooting on digital video, the transfer is more than acceptable. The audio is fine given this is dialogue driven.

    The extras, while not huge in number are certainly of very good quality.

    Recommended for anyone who wants to see a film made a little differently from the many others that are mass-produced.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Friday, April 19, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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DVDAnswers - Pete R

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